Samuel Kaufman ’19 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
For reviewers and audiences alike, much attention is paid to movies that are fresh and new. Ones that change things up on us. Thus, calling a movie formulaic tends to be an insult. Sound of Redemption: The Frank Morgan Story is formulaic, but in this case that is not a negative characteristic. Sound of Redemption is a biographical documentary, which are often predictable. As a result, it will probably not get as much acclaim as other, more flashy affairs in recent memory. Documentaries that unveiled great tragedy or the mistreatment of silverback gorillas. Even not knowing anything about Morgan going in, it is easy to foresee in the first few minutes what the plot will be.
The movie, directed by N.C. Heikin, delves into the life story of Frank Morgan, one of the most famous and talented jazz saxophonists in America, who spent much of his life in and out of prison due to heroin addiction and its numerous ramifications. In 1985, Morgan left jail for the last time, got clean and made a successful comeback, proving to the world and himself that he could overcome adversity to still be a great musician. To tell this story, the director utilizes the effective but familiar methods of talking head interviews with Morgan’s friends and family intercut with Ken Burns pictures, archival footage, and an almost ceaseless soundtrack of jazz. The propelling force through this movie is the Frank Morgan tribute show that the film keeps cutting back to, a mix of spoken life story and breathtaking jazz performed at Morgan’s old stomping ground, San Quentin prison, which grounds the narrative and provides a “home base” for the film to work off of. There are some unique stylistic choices here, but for the most part, this is all well trodden territory. This layout may not be cutting edge, but the filmmakers nail the execution. Mostly.
In regards to what could be improved, the list splits into two categories. The first type of problems are small, neigh insignificant. Mostly they deal with the occasionally bothersome titles and lower thirds. For a movie that looks rather professional, (especially given its crowd funded micro-budget) the text that appears on screen is overused and looks amateur enough to be distracting on more than one occasion. The second problem was far more protuberant. A documentary in this style is made or broken in the editing, and while the editing on this particular one was consistently above average, it could have benefited from another pass or two.
The story jumps around and doesn’t always agree with itself. There are non-sequesters and tonal inconsistencies which not too glaring, they are noticeable, and detract from one’s enjoyment and understanding of the the film. A successful biographical documentary should leave the viewer satisfied with a full, complete understanding of its subject, and although Sound of Redemption comes close, it leaves just enough questions unanswered to qualify as being irksome. There were definitely some topics that necessitated more time than they were given, which is particularly regrettable because at just one hour and 22 minutes, Sound of Redemption only squeaks by as a feature length film. It is rare that a film suffers from being over-edited, but in this case the movie would have benefited from being fifteen or twenty minutes longer.
Sound of Redemption is unsurprising, but entertaining. There are interesting interviews, amusing anecdotes, and plenty of jazz. The music is all phenomenal, the story is one worth telling, and the archival pictures succeed in keeping the audience from getting bored over the innumerable interviews of people who knew Morgan. Sound of Redemption is formulaic, but that’s okay because it’s a formula that works well.
Overall Grade: B+